The prospect of coming home after 33,000 miles through 21 countries on my motorcycle, was a welcomed and warranted one. Taking temporary leave from living out of panniers and a roll bag for two years short of a quarter—to being lavished in comfort at my mum’s house was beyond appealing—hand washing will only get you so far. For me, Christmas could not have been made more special; I reunited with my family. I cherished every moment with my nephews Max and Ollie, who at ages 8 and 6 have blossomed into wonderful, young boys adept at keeping their Aunty Lisa highly entertained. Their innocence and energy was exhilarating as much as exhausting.
Spending quality time with my mum, sister and brother-in-law as well as Jason’s family completed that time of togetherness, which was a back-to-back social calendar of fun days out and about. Perhaps more wonderful were the simple pleasures: playing hand ball and tag with the boys outside; engaging in crafts at the kitchen table and the odd Christmas classic on the box, intermingled everyday with making each other laugh, exquisite food and merriment to boot. Whoa, thanks family–I love you all.
Mum had a new hair cut, her toe nails were painted and she looked well. As I sat in her kitchen, surrounded by family and familiarity, we talked nonstop for hours—close, intimate, personal stuff. I think about the fact that I’ve chosen to live my life without a community. I will not have scores of people at my funeral like some I know. And I’m overwhelmed by a rush of loneliness; I fear that I’ve given up something significant.
But as I dwell on it more, I realise that I do have communities. I create them wherever I go. They’re not communities of people with whom I’ve shared many experiences over time but rather, they’re communities where I’ve made new and intense connections. Community is important to me and two-wheeled travel doesn’t preclude being a part of a group. Local people and riders, fellow travellers on wheels or otherwise, it’s critical for me that we get to collide on the same path sooner or later.
Until I entered my nomadic life, I thought of friendship as a relationship that requires years to develop. To truly call each other friends, I thought, two people need a history together in which they share and celebrate and mourn the events in each other’s lives over time. But my lifestyle doesn’t give me the luxury of a shared history, and I need friends. They’re nourishment for the soul.
So, like many other long-term travellers I’ve met, I’ve learned how to compress time through introducing, early in my conversation, intimate particulars of my life. My living on a motorcycle is always a good way to break the ice. And I openly talk about my former life, why we’ve swopped the life conventional for the ride of a lifetime, and the high highs and low lows that accompany it. Once I’ve opened the dialogue with some personal details of my life, the usual superficialities of an initial conversation have been bypassed.
Ultimately, it’s the friendships formed that drives a good deal of my motivation on the road. And because friendships can be formed rapidly or transiently, it’s the connection that matters, being able to associate in some way with a person. Not the history. I love the constant budding and blossoming friendships that define my life—like the cactus plants in Mexico that are always in all stages of growth—my friendships with people all over the world are also in varying stages of development. Some are old friends, new acquaintances, evolving friendships and fast friends.
During my travelling years, people all over the planet have opened their homes and hearts to us; they’ve shared their families, social circles, their meals, their fires and bared their souls. They’re too numerous to list but thanks to each and every one of you.
Back on home turf for a two-month holiday, we got busy doing our level best in visiting all those nearest and dearest to us. In the hopes of catching up on what’s been keeping their passions alive, them occupied and the minutiae of their lives. Within the comfort of space consumed by one’s motorcycle—wending my way in the great outdoors—it was a struggle to see how I was going to relate to some back home. Their priorities simply didn’t correlate to mine any more.
Of course everyone has the right to design their own lives, living by their preferred means and ways, however, things change. I’ve changed. My perspective has altered, and not by a negligible amount. I’m not the Lisa that set out almost two years back. How could I be after practically two years on the road—my worldview has evolved into something different.
I read somewhere that the average person has around 300 friends in a lifetime, suggesting that folks we once held close, come and go. Why then, would it come as such a shock that friendships sometimes wane and fizzle out? I lost whom I thought was a good friend of mine, heck we go back over 15 years, which hurt. Was it just the history of bygone years with these so-called friends that had kept the friendship of convenience going all these years?
Finding that they solely wanted to talk at me about themselves, dismissing what had kept us occupied altogether. With an elephant that large in the room, I left their house feeling contemplative as much as curious. I got thanked by another couple for “not banging on about our trip” while spending the evening in their company. There was no mal-intent, just an inability to relate, perhaps an indifference towards wanting to understand.
Without bearing any ill-will that people sometimes struggle to see outside of their solipsistic lives—where the self is all that they need to know—ultimately, it was interesting to see who asked about the trip out of obligation or feigned interest, and who simply didn’t, versus those that enquired out of an inquisitive fascination about our journey on the road so far. Acceptance towards the alienation that had crept in, without any real animosity, I let my thoughts wash over me. Instead, I immersed myself in the engulfing bosom of family, coupled with the lushness of consolidating real friendships.
Predictably, it was the folks that have travelled now and again, driven by their passions in life, who expressed a sincere interest in and intrigue by a life on the road. The euphoric times to the travel weary moments, compounded by exhaustion and everything else in between. One guy, Ian, spent three hours at his kitchen table with us just reliving our trip through travelogue details I’d totally forgotten—leaving me touched beyond any expectation. My expectation was never to ramble on about the places, people and experiences we’ve encountered, rather, I guess, just be given some airtime in keeping with your average two-way catch-up conversation born out of a two-year gap.
Post an indulgent Christmas in maximising the family festivities, there was more fun and frolics to be had with a great group of people whom we’ve known for a while. Just outside of Keswick in the Lake District, the invitation extended to a week in a stone-built cottage, complete with the cosy warmth of a crackling fire, tucked away in the snug Cumbrian hamlet of Stair.
Unspoilt and quiet but with an imminent threat of serious flooding, to the point of being cut off, fortunately didn’t dampen the spirits. Just the footwear. Burning off the Christmas-induced muffin top over the fells, more than blew out the cobwebs; Catbells nigh on blew us into next week. I love that wild aspect of English weather on rugged crags, enjoyed in a few secluded pockets here and there. The wind can be wicked but a few days of ridge hiking when it’s blowing a hooley always leaves you invigorated. It did me.
New Year came in with a bang at a house party with a wider social group in Liverpool. Racing across polished wooden floors with a bucket’s worth of potatoes clenched between our thighs added to the hilarity of the night. A few more pit stops with friends in Sheffield and Nottingham, having already caught up with most of my girlfriends across the midlands, and time simply ran out. Pack your bags, Lise. Time is never linear and although the two-month break didn’t drag its heels, I didn’t feel rushed; exceeding my wants to reunite, meeting my needs to recalibrate and alighting my desire to get back on the road. A Goldilocks’ duration of being back on home soil.
Flying into Los Angeles to a bright Californian sky, caressing our faces with its sunny disposition was the reception I had hoped for. Cheating the January months of an English winter is something I secretly strive for every year, and when it happens I couldn’t be more grateful.
Back in the man cave, courtesy of our host Mark Donham—an easygoing guy that just ‘gets it’—I hardly saw Jason for the three weeks he spent busying himself on the bikes. On the hour, every hour: “Another cuppa, Jase?” Pearl underwent quite the transformation; aside from the usual suspects of an oil change during a full service, she is now sporting soft saddlebags (our motivations behind which are here), her very own satnav and a sealed battery (I’m done with those prone to leaking fluid periodically.)
It seemed too perfect an opportunity not to pop a pair of progressive springs and a standard height rear suspension on my bike too. Heck, I should’ve raised Pearl up months ago but that’s hindsight’s retrospective offering for you. Especially having won the eBay purchase of the year on a new shock—nothing hardcore and after-market, just a bargain price tagged BMW one to see me through. And because Pearl has always suffered off-road with the ground clearance of a piece of paper—whose monetary value on such is very little—didn’t make sense to splash out on a decent shock to replace the expired one. Third time lucky?
“You’ll never believe this, Lisa,” Jason exclaimed. “Oh, what’s that?” I enquired. “You’ve only been riding with springs that are exactly the same length as these new ones against your factory-lowered rear shock.” “Huh?” “You’ve been riding a chopper! No wonder you managed 31,000 miles on your front tyre—there’s been hardly any weight on it the whole time.” “Hah! You’re kidding? So that’s why Pearl has been such a madam in corners…!” [Eyes rolling while chuckling.]
With my lady raring to go, Jase kitted up to take his wheels for a spin—namely to fulfil his errand boy duties with some parcels in the shape of eBay sales. “I don’t believe this, my bike won’t start,” Jase sighed. Half an hour later and the machine still showed zero signs of life. “The battery’s fine, so why won’t it bloody start?!” Oh drat, what now? Out came the GS-911 diagnostic tool, connected up to the laptop and smart phone via Mark’s Wi-Fi connection. Here we go, lets embrace modern technology and see what the outcome is, hopeful towards and intrigued by such devices collaborating. “There are no faults according to this thing [the GS-911],” Jase frowned as he scratched his head, frustrated in not knowing what to fettle. No wonder, the bike was left in first gear..!
“Fancy a day of goofy sightseeing around LA, guys?” Mark propositioned one day. “Sure!” we said. We’d been to the movies to watch the latest blockbuster The Big Short and met up with Mark’s fabulous friend, Lisa, to hang out in a home from home English bar supping bottles of Hen’s Tooth, a strong ale brewed in Suffolk. And stretched the legs for miles on Long Beach’s long beach (great name); exclaimed to a slow-speaking customer with a southern drawl in the Post Office’s queue (sorry, line) that I am unequivocally not Nicole Kidman (appreciating the complement nevertheless); and tantalised my taste buds with the local cuisine. Why not?
From the riches of Rodeo Drive, the opulent beauty of Beverly Hills, the Hollyweird of Hollywood to the ragtag dog-on-a-string types down at Venice. Thee richest place for people watching, Venice residents took relentless pleasure in disorganised, whooping knots: asking for $1 kisses and hugs; selling uninspirational scribbles on cardboard cut outs; enticing you to sell your soul on one stall, to then find God on another nearby. Handy to be given both choices within close proximity.
As we ventured through the beachside masses, more strangeness abounded with every conceivable form of tat and tattoo on offer. The neon pink hot pants sporting the statement “It ain’t gonna spank itself” caught my eye, as did the ripped guys pumping iron on muscle beach. Sadly, Arnie wasn’t there but some inadvertant—and what I thought was low profile—wide-eyed wonder, was all it took to coax a body-beautiful away from his weights.
“My name’s Andrew,” Mr Ripped stated proudly while warmly shaking my hand, “thank you so much for your admiration. Lets have a photo.” Flushed with embarrassment, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I questioned without stifling a chuckle. And with unfound hubris asserted “I’m going make you look bad, Andrew,” banishing my cardigan to openly flex the biceps in my pipe-cleaner arms.
I awoke with mixed feelings: a swell of excitement tempered with the disruption of being perfectly settled. Alas, we bade our farewells to Mark, better known by some as Radioman with genuine promises to stay in touch. Neither of us hesitated before we embraced, as if we were about to practice a long-established dance, confident of the first step and who should lead.
With one last signature hug and cries of “Ride safe, guys!” we were sent on our merry way with growing anticipation. Our sincere apologies to the guy, that it took us three weeks to finally skedaddle when we thought it’d take about one…thank you from the bottom of our hearts for accommodating us so comfortably.
I gently clasped my fingers around the handlebar grips, the feel of them memorised in the fibre of my body. Riding carefree on the silky smooth blacktop with the sanguine thought that only 4,000 miles lay ahead of us, Prudhoe Bay in Alaska no longer seemed like a distant fantasy. Remote as the place was, it was well within reach—just a throttle twist away.
I wove my way through LA’s raucous high-speed traffic at an excruciating if not exhilarating speed. I could feel myself growing lighter, taking on hope over hazard, with every mile I rode. When the traffic thinned out, the last of the fast food signs and hotel chains of the concrete jungle ebbed away to be replaced with a calmer, desert landscape.